A Student’s Guide to Getting Into the Games Industry

Posted by on Apr 12, 2011 in Blog, Feature | 12 comments

There’s one question other students ask me more often than anything else: “How’d you get your foot in the door?” The economy sucks. Companies say they aren’t hiring. There are a ton of job search tools out there, but none of them seem to help. Sometimes we don’t even get automated responses to our applications, much less any feedback from an actual person. Yet somehow, some people are still getting jobs straight out of school. I’m one of the lucky few, and now that I know where I’m going, I’ve had time to reflect on how I got here. There’s no clear-cut path to getting in, but there are plenty of things you can do to improve your chances – hopefully my experience will help somebody else. Create an Online Portfolio Way too many people wait until just before they graduate to make a portfolio and toss it online. You should do this as soon as you start college and add to it every semester. Add class projects. Blog about your experiences. It’ll make networking easier down the road. Shell out the ten bucks a year for a real domain name. It looks a lot more professional and it’s easier for people to find. If you can get your domain to match your name, it’ll also raise your Google karma. If you’re a programmer, producer, or designer, it’s completely fine to use a prebuilt theme for a content management system like WordPress. If you’re an artist, you can still use something like WordPress, but you should think about customizing it to show off your skills. Use your website as your opportunity to craft an experience that displays exactly what you want people to know about you. Network Early A lot of students seem to think that networking is the hardest part of the job search process. You don’t start off by knowing the the CEO of a major game company or someone who has the ability to directly land you a job. It’d be nice, sure, but it isn’t realistic. Start off by getting to know your fellow students. They’re a fantastic foundation for networking. I made a game with someone on my dorm hall during my sophomore year, and he landed an internship. When I applied to the same company, I had the reputation of being “the guy who worked with the other guy,” and that went a long way in helping me get my first interview. It made me memorable to the recruiter because I associated me with someone who the company already knew to be qualified. If you get to know a lot of your fellow students in your first and second years of college, you’ll end up “knowing people who know people” by your junior and senior years. Make Something Be the person who instills everyone with a drive to do something. Find a group that you really liked working on a project with in a class? See if they want to continue the project after the class is over. Find other people who want to make games. Start small, set a goal, and try to reach it. Maybe you just make a Flash game with a couple friends over a weekend. Don’t know how to make a Flash game? Find someone who does or find other...

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My Gaming Habits: A Year Over Year Comparison

Posted by on Feb 3, 2011 in Blog | 1 comment

One of the perks of making the “what I played” lists is the ability to look back and see how my gaming habits change over time. I took some data from those posts and visualized it… First off, it’s clear that the Xbox 360 has cemented itself as my platform of choice for this generation. I don’t play a lot of games on Xbox Live, so I guess I’ve fallen victim to Microsoft’s goal of making the Xbox the “entertainment center” of the living room. I listen to a lot of my music through it, streaming off my PC. I watch most of my movies through the Netflix dashboard app. Even though the PS3 has a Bluray player, I find myself turning on the Xbox when I want to be entertained with no particular game or activity in mind. The iPhone also appears to have replaced my DS almost entirely. I’m intrigued by the new handhelds Sony and Nintendo are hawking, but I doubt I’d spend as much time with them as I do my phone since my phone is always with me. The ease of access to buying new stuff in the app store goes a long way. It doesn’t look like my preferred game genres have shifted much when I account for what games were actually released in each year. Strategy saw a bump thanks to two different versions of Plants vs Zombies and StarCraft II. I was surprised to find that an increase in iPhone gaming happened to correlate with a decrease in puzzle games, but that might be a testament to the kind of things developers are releasing for the app store nowadays. The chart aside, I feel like the biggest shift in my gaming preferences deals with open world games such as Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Saboteur. I’m just now getting into those games and catching the completionist bug, so they probably make up the majority of my gaming hours. I’ve always been an early adopter of new tech in gaming – I owned a Sega Nomad, four GBA-Gamecube cables, and an eReader – so take it with a grain of salt, but 2010 represented a massive shift in the way I acquire games. The bump in digital downloads is inflated by the increase in iPhone gaming, but there was a definite increase in my DLC purchases across all platforms that support it. I’ve grown reluctant to buy games if I can’t toss a CD key into Steam and access it from anywhere. The laptop I purchased over the summer has no DVD drive at all. On my Xbox, I bought a 16 GB flash drive because I finally ran out of space on the stock 20 GB drive it came with. The only two games I played on PS3 this year were digitally downloaded. I don’t know what all this means yet, and maybe I never will. I just find it interesting to be aware of how I consume the medium I work...

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What I Played: 2010 Edition

Posted by on Feb 1, 2011 in Blog, Feature | 5 comments

I’m in my last semester of college, and I’m excited about what the future has in store. I’m also working on a couple more games that will hopefully be out the door soon. And of course, I’m looking forward to GDC in a few weeks. Here’s the second entry in what I’m trying to make an annual piece – a complete list of every game I remember playing in the previous year, along with a few impressions about it. I especially enjoyed comparing this list to last year’s to see how my gaming habits have changed (more on that in a future post). Alan Wake – Remedy (Xbox 360) As someone who was never a huge fan of Max Payne, I was more interested in the game’s perceived similarities to Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space. The “use light to kill” mechanic was really cool for the first few hours before it became tedious and repetitive. I was also disappointed by the script and the plot – it seemed to think it was a lot smarter than it was, and I guess the developers expected it to carry the experience when the gameplay couldn’t. That said, it’s original, it’s beautiful, and it’s very playable – that is to say there aren’t many bugs or control issues. This fits nicely with Resident Evil 5 as a good game that could have been great. Finished: NO APB: All Points Bulletin – Realtime Worlds (PC) Read the decon for my detailed impressions.  I had fun with APB despite its flaws. Looking forward to seeing what changes are made when it relaunches later this month. Finished: N/A Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – Ubisoft Montreal (Xbox 360) This is actually the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played for more than an hour or so. After hearing so many people talking about it for the last two months of the year, I decided to pick it up right after Christmas and I haven’t been disappointed. I love it when open world games give me a map with a bunch of dots that represent things to do outside of missions – I feel like I don’t have to make the commitment of time to continue the story but I can still make progress, and Brotherhood excels at offering a variety of small tasks. I’ve sunk about 12 hours into the single player and I’m less than 40% into the story, and I still haven’t touched the multiplayer. Finished: NO (still playing) Bayonetta – Platinum Games (Xbox 360) January / February was a crowded release window for arcade beat-em-up games, with Bayonetta falling in last places for sales against Dante’s Inferno and God of War III. The production value of Bayonetta reminds me of Metal Gear Solid, and the gameplay is familiar to any Devil May Cry fan. I’m not a big fan of the genre, but I had fun with this game for a while. The gameplay is fun, even if it occasionally results in button mashing, and the presentation couldn’t be much better. I don’t really know why I put it down…probably just not my genre, but I would highly recommend it to any God of War fan. Finished: NO Castle Crashers – The Behemoth (Xbox Live Arcade) This is the first of many games I played this...

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Reflections on Computational Media

Posted by on Dec 2, 2010 in Blog | 2 comments

This is the paper I turned in for my senior design “capstone” class in which I’m supposed to reflect on how my coursework relates to the work I’ll be faced in a job after I graduate. I’m posting it because a number of students in Computational Media have asked me for advice about classes and other projects, and this is probably the most honest summary of my take on Tech I’ll ever write. My time at Georgia Tech is finally coming to a close. I absolutely love being here and I certainly don’t regret enrolling as an out of state student. I’ve shown my school spirit through founding Only at Tech and representing Tech in Indiecade and the Global Game Jam, and I’m always looking for new ways to give back. More so than the classes, the people in Computational Media have helped me achieve success beyond the school and I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given that have shaped me as a designer, producer, and person. For my capstone project, I was given the chance to work on a new game to give Georgia Tech an entry into the annual Independent Games Festival – the first time undergraduate students have been allowed to do so for course credit. To make it happen, my group had to start planning ahead of the fall semester. We built a playable prototype for the game in the spring and showed it to industry professionals for feedback during our summer internships. By the first day of class, we already had a detailed development plan and tasks for every member of the team. Our game, A Sticky Situation, is a puzzle-platforming game for the PC and Xbox 360. Players control a piece of gum who ventures outside the world of the gumball machine in search of his girlfriend who was vended away to a customer. I came up with the original concept and the gameplay mechanics, designed a couple levels, created all the marketing materials such as the website and trailer, and composed roughly half the game’s music. The team spent entire weekends (including every day of fall break) at my apartment working on it, averaging about 40 hours a week on top of our other classes and commitments. Our final product ended up being something that we are all very proud of, and it’s currently being judged in the Independent Games Festival. We’re anxiously awaiting to get the results in January because we believe it has a real chance at being selected as a finalist. For as much as it seems like a culmination of my time at Tech, it’s hard to believe this capstone class was only four credit hours of the hundred or so I’ve taken in Computational Media. There were a few other courses I took that were related to game development of varying helpfulness to this project. In the first semester of my sophomore year, I took LCC 2700 (“Introduction to Computational Media”) and CS 2261 (“Media Device Architecture”). Talking to students who had already taken them, I was excited that I would have the opportunity to make games after being stuck with core courses my freshman year. LCC 2700 was an interesting class on multiple levels. I had Brian Magerko as my instructor, and he would...

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Game Deconstruction: APB

Posted by on Nov 29, 2010 in Decon, Feature | 0 comments

If you work in the games industry, you’re probably already somewhat familiar with APB. It’s known as the hundred million dollar bust that sank Realtime Worlds, and it’s easily the biggest failure story in MMO history. It was almost universally panned by critics, and most gamers stayed far away from it. But you might also remember a time when the game was the one of the most anticipated titles around – back when it was revealed at GDC 2008, in a presentation by GTA creator and RTW CEO Dave Jones. That presentation happened to be the first talk I ever attended at a GDC, and it left an impression on me. I remember the entire room erupting with applause and cheers every time they showed a new feature in the character customization system. I remember the people around me instantly calling it a “WoW killer.” Then it suddenly disappeared from the media, and we heard almost nothing about it in the two years between that talk and its release. I’m not an MMO fan, but I really looked forward to APB. I was working at Visceral Games when it came out this summer, and everyone in the office was shocked by the beating it took on Metacritic. We all wanted to play it to see the damage for ourselves, but due to the reviews none of us wanted to actually buy it. The cycle of doubt fixed itself when my lead presented me with a copy of APB as a going away present on my last day of work. I played it, analyzed it, and tried to come up with some insights that can be gained from it. APB: All Points Bulletin Developer: Realtime Worlds Publisher: Electronic Arts Genre: Shooter / MMO Metacritic: 58 Price: $49.99 Subscription: $7/20hrs or $10/month Background APB is the first (and last) MMO by Crackdown developer Realtime Worlds. It places players in the city of San Paro, a modern metropolis where criminals roam the streets and everyday citizens have been given the go to bring them to justice. Players can choose which side to align with – “enforcers” or “criminals” – and do their part to eliminate the other faction. The premise is simultaneously obvious, awesome, and vastly underdeveloped for the genre. Cops vs Robbers is fun, and you could say the theme has proven to be mildly successful in games, so why not make it into an MMO? World Remember the description above, where I said San Paro was a “modern metropolis?” APB only lets you visit three areas of it, none of which are terribly large. The game has two “action districts” (Financial and Waterfront) and one “social district.” The action districts are where you’ll find PvP gameplay, and the social district consists of very little socializing but is free to play and doesn’t eat up game time. It’s also where you go to buy items for your character. The district select menu comes up when you login to the game, and it pretty much sticks to expectations for the game’s overall lack of polish. The social district looks fine, and has a few cool features to boot. It reminds me of the few things that don’t suck about Second Life in that players can buy ad space on billboards with in game...

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Hey! Look! Listen!

Posted by on Nov 3, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

It’s a new game! This is what I’ve been up to since leaving EA this summer....

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Thoughts on Limbo

Posted by on Jul 30, 2010 in Blog, Now Playing | 3 comments

I haven’t been away from the game long enough to write a formal deconstruction, but I’ve been talking to a lot of friends about Playdead’s Limbo recently. My opinion differs from the majority (not to say I’m on my own), and I think writing it in the blog is the best way to articulate the angle I’m coming from. In doing so, I hope I’ll be able to get some feedback on why the things that bothered me made the game better for everyone else. Art Style The first thing everyone talks about when they see Limbo is the unique minimalist art style. It’s looks absolutely beautiful in motion, and it creates an incredible mood for the game’s world. It evokes all sorts of emotions without the use of language, and it undeniably leaves an impression with the player. Unfortunately, I found a huge drawback to this art style in the context of Limbo‘s gameplay. It’s not always clear what the player can and can’t interact with in each area, and the VFX often work against it. The majority of the times I got stuck in the game were because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be interacting with (i.e. pushing buttons on signs that change the direction of gravity). I’m all for a cool look, but it’s a design failure when it interferes with the player’s ability to understand their environments. It’s not “clever” or “innovative” to confuse the player about what they can and can’t interact with in the game world, and a few too many puzzles fell into that category for my taste. Death Like Another World before it, Limbo has an obscene number of graphic death scenes. It’s no secret that, no matter how attached to their characters, players love seeing them get mangled in creative and unexpected ways – take a look at Dead Space or Resident Evil, for example. There are “all the ways to die” videos on YouTube with millions of hits, and artists clearly put a lot of effort into making sure players are satisfied. The difference between deaths in Dead Space and Limbo is that the player doesn’t always have control in Limbo. In fact, death is treated not as a punishment for failure but as a way of showing the player the solution to a scripted event puzzle. One section in particular highlights this, where the player approaches a switch surrounded by two small crevices on either side. Stepping on the switch causes a piston to come down and smash the player into the ground. A few steps further down the hallway lies an identical looking switch, but stepping on this switch is actually the only way to prevent the piston from falling. There are no visual cues to solving this puzzle before you get to it – the player must learn entirely from trial and error. It’s harmless enough because the game respawns the player right in front of the switch hallway, but why is it necessary? Are players supposed to think the developer is clever for misleading them? Is it just a general “screw you” to the audience? Here’s a game that is advertised for its artistic value and innovation, and puzzles like this are simply time wasters that artificially extend an already short gameplay experience....

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Game Deconstruction: Robot Unicorn Attack

Posted by on Jun 28, 2010 in Decon, Feature | 1 comment

Open your eyes, I see. Your eyes are open. Wear no disguise for me, come into the open. When it’s cold (when it’s cold), outside (outside), am I here in vain? Hold on, to the night, there will be no shame. When I was trying to decide which game to deconstruct next, I listed the games I’ve been playing the most recently. Then I pulled out my phone to send a text message and Robot Unicorn Attack stared back at me. I stopped playing just long enough to write this article. Robot Unicorn Attack Developer: Adult Swim Games Platform: Browser (link) / iPhone Genre: Imaginary Metacritic: N/A Price: Free / $2.99 (iPhone) Robot Unicorn Attack is a completely unoriginal game that managed to be better than its source material in just about every way. It clearly followed the example of indie darling Cannabalt, which is still a great game on its own. Whereas Cannabalt’s audience was limited to the hardcore gaming community, Robot Unicorn Attack made the gameplay more complex and found a much larger audience (over 27 million players according to the developer). It’s a rare failure of the K.I.S.S. principle. What’s so magical about this game? Gameplay The objective of Robot Unicorn Attack is to live as long as possible. The game instructs the player to “make your wishes come true” at the beginning of each round, with the subsequent reminder that “you will die.” The core gameplay consists of jumping, double jumping, and dashing from across floating platforms as the unicorn automatically runs to the right. The player’s score increases at a rate that grows every 5,000 points, and additional points can be earned by running into fairies or dashing through star-shaped rocks. The wish ends in a fiery explosion when the player runs into a wall, falls off the map, or hits a star without dashing. The two button gameplay (jumping or dashing) is deceivingly deep. The player’s success or failure depends on the timing of each jump or knowing when to double jump over an obstacle versus dash under it. The game’s increasing speed makes reacting to each obstacle even more difficult. The camera can be problematic, and I still find myself occasionally blaming the game for randomly spawning a platform with an unfairly placed star on it when I crash, but I’m still steadily improving my scores. Asthetics IGN has praised Robot Unicorn Attack as “the best Erasure song you’ve ever played,”and it’s true that most of the game’s character comes from its soundtrack. The sci-fi sounds of jet boosters and explosions combined with the synthpop love ballad is extremely memorable in every way you don’t want it to be. Players find themselves humming the song for hours after they play. The game’s art style mirrors the sound design with Michael Bay-worthy explosions set against platforms of purple grass and rainbows that could have come straight out of a My Little Pony cartoon. The ironic pairing of things that don’t belong together wouldn’t mean anything without the gameplay depth, but it makes the game a guilty pleasure to play. The comparison to Cannabalt is a great reminder that game design only goes so far: production value and execution made this game the viral success that it is. Replayability Take away the music and there’s a key...

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Only at Tech Hacked

Posted by on Mar 31, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

Around 11:30 PM last night, the Only at Tech team became aware of malicious code that was being served through our website. It does NOT appear that this code downloaded any sort of malware to our users’ computers (our virus scans have turned up negative), but we have reason for concern because one of the affected files contained the login information for the site’s database. This means the attacker(s) could have gained access to a list of our registered users’ email addresses and hashed passwords. The offending code has been removed. We believe this was an automated attack, and in most cases the attackers do not do anything with the users’ data. It was likely targeted at multiple sites running the same backend as Only at Tech. That doesn’t mean you should be careless if you use your Only at Tech password on other sites with sensitive data. To be on the safe side, we would recommend you change your passwords on Only at Tech and any other sites where you use the same email/password combination. We apologize for our failure to secure your information on our side, and for any inconvenience this causes you. We’re currently in the process of upgrading to a more secure backend as part of a major site update, but in the meantime, we’ve taken some precautions to prevent this from happening again. Technical details on the attack are below for those of you who are interested. This is Tech, after all. Only at Tech as it appeared on Google. We love "Dancing with the Stars" as much as anyone, but… Around 11:30 PM, routine social media monitoring of the “Only at Tech” phrase revealed an oddity in the Google search results page.  Instead of the usual Google snippet of the homepage, we encountered a link to a spammy pdf file.  Further research revealed that our site returned an HTTP 302 redirect to a randomly generated URL, but only when accessing the site with a Google user agent string. We discovered that malicious code had been inserted into two of our files — a config file and an include file.  Both of these files contained JavaScript code of the following form: eval(base64_decode(…)) This structure is commonly used in by malware authors to obfuscate malicious code.  Decoding the base64 string resulted in the following JavaScript file: http://pastebin.org/129150 Reading the JavaScript confirms the evidence we had first encountered with the 302 redirect when using a Google user agent.  And more specifically, user agent strings that contain one of “google”, “Googlebot”, “slurp”, or “msnbot” were redirected to spammy/malicious pdfs.  These user agent strings are those that are used by the webcrawlers of Google, Yahoo, and MSN/Bing respectively.  The malicious JavaScript also revealed the details of how the randomized URLs were constructed.  In short, they are randomly assembled from a shortlist of prefixes and suffixes found in files on a server identified only by its IP address. Investigating the IP address using standard online DNS tools and WHOIS queries, we found that the server was registered to a user located in Luxembourg and hosted in the same country. Searching the Internet for some of the code snippets found in the JavaScript file, it turns out that the code is commonly available on the underground malware market.  We found...

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Game Deconstruction: PixelJunk Shooter

Posted by on Mar 29, 2010 in Decon, Feature | 1 comment

Back in August, I committed to doing one decon per month. It only took two months for me to fall off track. Now I have to play catch up…but better late than never, right? This month I take a look at another downloadable title, this time for the PlayStation 3. I briefly played PixelJunk Shooter at E3, and although I was impressed with its visual style and ease of use, I didn’t know how long the game would be able to keep my attention with its simple mechanics. I picked it up based on the developer’s reputation for quality, and although it was a bit on the short side, it does a lot of things very well. PixelJunk Shooter Developer: Q Games Genre: Shooter / Puzzle Metacritic: 86 Price: $9.99 Length: 4-6 hours Background PixelJunk Shooter is the fourth entry in the Q Games’ PixelJunk series of PSN titles, following most recently the critically acclaimed PixelJunk Eden. It follows suit with the series’ reputation for high production value and polish. On the surface, the game isn’t very special – it’s a space-cavern exploration adventure along the lines of Subterrania for the Sega Genesis (I feel like this dates me), but its puzzle design is so innovative that it creates a very fresh experience. Its difficulty stems from its fluid-based physics puzzles, all of which force the player to think carefully about every move. The game isn’t particularly difficult, but it’s extremely clever. Gameplay Shooter consists of three worlds that have roughly five levels each. Each level is broken up into a handful of areas where  a handful of crew members from the ERS Piñita Colada have been stranded. The player is tasked with rescuing all of the survivors in each area, without letting more than five die during the course of a level. All survivors must be rescued or killed (no one gets left behind) before access to the next area until the the final area is reached, where an escape gate opens to leave the level. The player cannot backtrack to areas they have completed without replaying the entire level. In the final area of each world, the player encounters a boss that must be defeated to continue on to the next world. The player’s health is displayed on a heat gauge at the bottom of the screen. As the ship takes damages or flies around magma, it gets warmer. If it gets too hot, it stalls out or explodes. The ship’s temperature gradually decreases when it is far away from hazards, and it cools off instantly when submersed in water. The player’s deaths are not tracked – if you die at any time during a level, you start back at the beginning of the area. The only way to fail a level is to allow the lost survivor counter to reach five. The player can earn 1-UPs during the game that subtract one from that counter. If the player restarts an area after accidentally killing a survivor, the survivor will reappear in the level but the penalty for losing him does not reset. The entire game is also playable in co-op mode. Playing with a friend almost completely eliminates the penalty for failure because it’s rare for both players to die at once. After dying in co-op...

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